Grilling at Belly Q (Lenny Gilmore/RedEye )
Review: Belly Q
1400 W. Randolph St. 312-563-1010
Rating: !!!! (out of four) Already hot
There’s only one person who mentions the word "belly" more often than a gossip magazine’s celebrity baby-watch section. That’s Bill Kim, a fine-dining chef who’s gone casual with his super-popular pan-Asian restaurants Urban Belly in Avondale and Belly Shack in Wicker Park. In late August, he welcomed a third baby to the Belly family, Belly Q. Since I’ve been waiting for Kim’s latest creation with the bated breath of a Beyonce fan counting down to Blue Ivy’s arrival, I was happy to brave the dinner crowds during the West Loop restaurant’s second weekend open. I left with a full belly and answers to a few questions I’d been wondering about.
>>Don't have time to read our full review? Read our fast facts.
or check out a photo tour
Is this Korean barbecue or what?
Kind of. Kim calls Belly Q "modern Asian barbecue." What that means is he’s taken the Korean barbecue you know from grill-at-your-table classics such as Cho Sun Ok and Sab Soo Gab San and twisted the flavors in the broader, pan-Asian direction of Belly Shack and Urban Belly. Kim also hopes to make it more interactive and accessible. "You go to a traditional barbecue [restaurant and] you get 13 or 15 different [things] at your table and someone just walks away, not describing what you're eating." Six tables along the front windows as well as the chef’s table near the kitchen feature Japanese infrared grills built into the tabletops. Of course, grilled dishes are just one part of a menu that features tofu hot pots, smoked meats, salads and snacks.
>>Chef Kim says: Ventilation hoods above each grill table aim to make the grill-at-your-table experience less smoky. "It eliminates a lot of the smoke from coming toward you and making you smell like you've been in a forest preserve barbecue all day long." Kim said. Still, one of my tablemates complained the dining room’s dry air bothered her contact lens-clad eyes.
Can I order my favorites from Belly Shack and Belly Q here?
If your fave is the edamame, then yes. Kim serves the snack the same way as at his other restaurants, with soy-balsamic glaze and crispy fried shallots ($4). Belly Q also serves the same Chinese eggplant with Thai basil ($6) as Urban Belly, as well as soft-serve ($6, with fun toppings such as coconut jelly and passion fruit ice) that’s similar to Belly Shack’s. And though the Korean staple of kimchee may not look exactly the same here as at Kim’s other restaurants because it’s made with different veggies, the kicky marinade is identical.
What’d they do with the pizza oven?
It’s still here. Kim has put the wood-burning pizza oven left behind by previous restaurant tenant One Sixtyblue to use by making Korean pancakes, a favorite dish that his mom cooked for him growing up. A batter of rice flour, eggs and ice water with veggies mixed in is poured into a thin circle and then baked. Each pancake is topped with seafood ($8), goat’s milk feta ($7) or chunks of thick bacon and shreds of spicy kimchee ($8), the latter of which makes for a heavenly combo of smoky and spicy flavors. "It’s my interpretation of pizza," Kim said.
>>Chef Kim says: "Korean pancakes are one of my first things that I, as a kid, started falling in love with. My mom makes it every time I go to her house. And I’m just like, you know what? I love it so much, we gotta put it on the menu. Obviously, I’m Asian. Of course I love pizza, but we weren’t going to do pizza in there. ... It [has] crispy edges, it’s very savory and its’ very thin."
Isn’t barbecue supposed to take a long time?
"Low and slow" is for the motto for American barbecue, but Kim wanted to showcase Asian barbecue techniques that don’t take hours in a smoker to develop flavor. Tea-smoked duck breast ($20), pork steak ($18) or lamb ribs ($23) cook for about 10 minutes in a smoker with a mixture of Chinese black tea, flour and sugar. Likewise, beef short ribs ($20) spend 24 hours marinating before hitting the grill (either in the kitchen or at your table) for just a few minutes. The result is a beautiful blank slate for three made-from-scratch sauces: soy-balsamic, serrano chili (which deserves its name, Belly Fire) and hoisin. I happily bounced between them—tangy, spicy, sweet, repeat—with each bite of meat.
Does that guy behind the bar look familiar?